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Let’s Talk About Rune

Holger Rune

Holger Rune comes into the 2024 French Open as World no. 13, following a rocky start to a year marred by inconsistent results, illness, and a dizzying ride around the coaching carousel. Can Roland Garros turn it around?

It was always going to be a challenge for the 21-year-old Rune to better his 2023 results, which saw him rise to a career-high World no. 4. But despite a rocky start to his season, there have been flashes of brilliance from the fast-twitch, explosive (and sometimes polarizing) bundle of energy that is Rune.

Going into the first major of the year with his coaching team in turmoil, Rune posted an unsurprising “surprise” loss in the second round of the Australian Open to teenage wild card and then-world no. 122 Arthur Cazaux of France.

At Roland Garros, Rune should be looking to right the ship, equaling or bettering his 2023 results, where he reached the quarterfinals, losing to eventual finalist Casper Ruud.

An Uneven 2024 Clay Season

After a spectacular 2023 clay season, Rune’s 2024 clay season seemed to be heading in the right direction, with a quarterfinal showing at the Rolex Monte Carlo Masters. In the third round, he played what was arguably one of the best matches so far of the 2024 clay swing, defeating an in-form Grigor Dimitrov in a three-set thriller. After losing in the 2024 Monte Carlo Masters quarterfinal match against Sinner, Rune failed to reach the final like he did in 2023, posting back-to-back wins over Sinner and Medvedev.

Monte Carlo was followed by a trip to the semifinal in Munich and in Madrid, a third-round loss to Talon Griekspoor. Rune later revealed that he’d been battling illness for a few weeks and he re-surfaced at the Rome Masters eager to defend or better the points he’d earned as a finalist there in 2023, when he beat Rudd and Djokovic in dramatic fashion en route to the final.

In an ATP interview during the Rome Masters, Rune said his long-term goal is to win Grand Slams but in the short-term he wants to get back to a great level of tennis. By all accounts, he’s in a re-building phase, looking to improve his mindset and gain further clarity on his game.

“I go by my emotions and mindset,” he said. “Figure out your game, keep improving, and look for the extra gear and things you can do to surprise your opponent.”

While Rune’s clay season has been off-kilter, he seems to be in good company, with no player on men’s side distancing himself from the pack ahead of Roland Garros.

Pressure and criticism on Rune

Tennis commentators and the tennis-watching public are impatient and often fickle. One of the great highs in tennis is seeing a young player catapult into the stratosphere.

Often, exceedingly talented young players like Rune are under constant pressure and criticism.  (Some may forget that after turning pro in 2020 at just 16, Rune finished 2021 ranked 103 and by the end of the next year he was in the Top 10–a meteoric rise by any standard.)

But improvement isn’t always a straight line. It’s more like a corkscrew–going up, circling round, and perhaps heading downward again. If you’re lucky, your skills will improve and you’ll be on the rise again. The corkscrew isn’t sexy. It doesn’t grab headlines, though it can certainly mess with your head. Conventional wisdom says that a player who believes in and trusts the process will see their way through.

Add to that the scrutiny that these young players are subjected to. Despite claiming they want big personalities, fans don’t always have patience for players who dance to the beat of a different drum. When someone edgy arrives, their every move is dissected and they’re criticized for coloring outside the lines.

Sadly, Rune’s sometimes petulant antics–some might say immaturity–have overshadowed his impressive results. It’s easy to forget how young these players are, but it’s worth repeating: Rune is barely out of his teens.

Rune has also taken a lot of flack due to the involvement of his mother, Aneke Rune. Parents in the box is an ongoing talking point in tennis (just ask Stefanos Tsitsipas), but in the case of Aneke Rune, there’s also a whiff of misogyny. The same kind of chatter swirled around Judy Murray, a steady presence in Andy’s box. But as a former pro tennis player herself, even critics conceded that Judy had something concrete to offer where tennis was concerned. Given that Aneke Rune isn’t a former pro, is ever-present and was Holger’s press manager (he signed with IMG in February of this year), opened the floodgates to criticism.

But while Aneke Rune lacks formal tennis training, she does have a deep understanding of her son. By all accounts, the Runes are close-knit family and Aneke Rune is very tuned into the emotional well-being of Holger. She makes little effort to blend into the background, or hide her desire to ensure he’s working with coaches and trainers who have his best interests at heart.

Which leads directly to Rune’s most pressing challenge: finding stability and the best mix in his coaching box.

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Coaching challenges dominate Rune’s season thus far

Soon after the 2024 Australian Open, Rune reunited with supercoach Patrick Mouratoglou, who he had previously worked with from October 2022 to August 2023, taking him from Top 10 to World no. 4, winning his first Masters 1000 title along the way. They seemed to part amicably enough, and in October 2023 Rune announced he would be working with Boris Becker; during the off-season he brought in Severin Luthi, Roger Federer’s former mentor. On the heels of his early exit from the Australian Open, Rune suddenly parted ways with both Becker and Luthi–the official word was due to scheduling–before reuniting with Mouratoglou and saying he was eager to find stability in his coaching team. Whew.

This isn’t their first (or second) rodeo. Rune spent a considerable spell of time during his teens training at the Mouratoglou Academy. In an interview earlier this year with the Craig Shapiro Tennis Podcast, Aneke Rune described moving Holger out of Denmark where a dearth of young players left him sparring with adults. Instead of sending then 13-year-old Holger off alone, she said the whole family packed up and decamped to the Mouratoglou Academy in the South of France so that Holger could train with players his age and level.

Perhaps returning to the familiar coaching relationship with Mouratoglou will help Rune regain consistency, get a toehold in the Majors, and move him closer to his ultimate goal of reaching the pinnacle of men’s tennis.

“I’ve finally got some stability in my team now and all of us working in the same direction, tennis wise, physically and mentally,” Rune said during the Rome Masters. “We are on the right path and we are going to go from here all the way to the top.”

It’s hard to know whether Rune’s mindset has been affected by the outside pressure to keep climbing in the rankings or the bullying he’s received. Yes, I said bullying. He’s a frequent target on social media, has been publicly chastised by other players, and even respected tennis commentators have said some truly awful things about him on the record.

Pressure and criticism aside, Rune certainly has a record that proves he can be a monster on clay, boasting a 69% win average on the surface and victories over some of the sport’s top clay-courters.

It’s surprising to consider that the 2024 French Open will only be Rune’s third time playing Roland Garros main draw. In his two previous appearances, he made it to the Quarterfinals, before losing both times to clay-court specialist Ruud. Not too shabby.

In his opening match this year at Roland Garros, Rune is slated to face Brit Dan Evans. Italian Flavio Cobolli, who’s posted some impressive results this clay season, is lurking in the second round; also lurking–Zverev, Medvedev and Djokovic–all on the same side of the draw.

Luckily, Rune will only have to beat the player in front of him on any given day. And with question marks surrounding many of the would-be favorites– Sinner, Alcaraz, Djokovic and Medvedev are all nursing injuries or lacking reps coming into the tournament–if the stars align, the stage is set for a Rune to make a deep run. Perhaps, as he might say, all the way to the top.

Main Photo Credit: Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports


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